PowderPeople | Marco Milanese

Bergführer, Skifahrer, Abenteurer


Marco Milanese is an alpine mountain guide, a modern adventurer and certainly a local legend in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. The variety of his mountain activities is astonishing, based upon alpine climbing, reaching towards highlining and base jumping, but also incorporating skitouring, freeriding and speedflying. In this interview we try to find out about Marco and how he manages such a variety of mountain activities, how he deals with risk and what he was doing last winter.

Marco Milanese

Marco Milanese is an alpine mountain guide, a modern adventurer and certainly a local legend in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. The variety of his mountain activities is astonishing, based upon alpine climbing, reaching towards highlining and base jumping, but also incorporating skitouring, freeriding and speedflying. In this interview we try to find out about Marco and how he manages such a variety of mountain activities, how he deals with risk and what he was doing last winter.

PG: Ciao Marco! How is it going?

MM: It’s going great, thanks.

PG: I saw you were on a trip through the Balkans. What did you do and how did it go?

MM: I’m actually still travelling. Apart from two small earthquakes, a landslide falling on the street 10 seconds after we drove past and a bit of stomachache, our journey is going very well. At the moment me and my girlfriend Elisa are enjoying the nature of the Balkans and their people in this place so close to us in terms of distance and yet it feels so far away. We spend our time climbing, hiking, kayaking and paragliding. I also opened a couple of wingsuit jumps.

PG: You are born in FVG. How would you describe the mountains there?

MM: I love our mountains because they are far from the famous Dolomites, not so crowded and you can really feel nature there. You can spot lots of animals and walk alone for ages.

The Julian Alps and the Carnic Alps have everything you need. You can easily find big walls, different kind of rock and epic ski descents (especially the couloirs). Besides that, we have Sella Nevea that is one of the most snowy place in the Alps. I'm based in Udine, a small city in the flatland. It’s around 1 hour away from all the natural playgrounds you can imagine. Big mountains, climbing walls everywhere, lakes, rivers, lagoons, sandy and rocky beaches. In 1 hour I can be in 3 different countries and in two hours I can be in Cortina d'Ampezzo, the pearl of Dolomites, where I work.

PG: And how would these mountains describe you?

MM: These mountains are steep and wild. Just like me.

PG: Winter 2020/21 in FVG was breaking records in terms of snowfall. How did you enjoy that? What does a simple skitour with old friends mean to you?

MM: During last winter I was mostly in Cortina, but I enjoyed a few tours in FVG as well. It was the best winter I have ever had. No lifts means no people and as a guide I was able to go around without restrictions. So, in other words, it was epic! I even skied my homeline, which means I skied through houses for 600 vertical meters.

That season we didn’t need to find detours to catch the good snow or try to stay away from the people. We just did the classic routes with the best conditions. I even opened a new skibase in FVG. It was a really big one close to Nassfeld (Austria).

You basically ski down a slope and, at a certain point, you drop from a 300 meters wall. It was mystical. Skitouring with friends in these conditions gives me the feeling of life in its simplicity. Spending a day with friends and pow, Isn’t life all about this?

Daniel Hug / Terragraphy
Marco Milanese

PG: I am particularly amazed by the variety of mountain activities you practice and excell at. Did you by pure curiosity pick up the more extravagant styles, highlining and base jumping? Or what is the driving force behind that diversity and progressive approach?

MM: During all my sport life in general, I constantly changed. I "evolved" from volleyball to football, from judo to tennis and I finally ended up playing rugby. Then I left it all and started practicing outdoor activities, with the help of my father who is a skilled alpinist and skitourer. The point is that I had periods when I defined myself as a climber, in others as a skier then pass through highlining and now I'm mostly a base jumper. I just put myself in a state where I can learn new activities without leaving the old ones. I didn't even search for them, but at some point in the learning process I discovered to be skilled enough to play by myself.

But what is the main playground for all these activities? Nature. I love to live the elements. I want to strongly feel the rock, the air, the snow and so on. Living the elements is what drive me through seasons, following the flow of where I am and what the mountains are offering me. Ah, I like the sea too... especially windsurfing.

PG: To me the combination of activities in the mountains makes sense naturally and enriches the experience. Skitouring is an example of that, combining hiking and skiing. Do you think that this is somewhat a key to a fulfilling mountain sports life: to enjoy it in all of its aspects and to not focus too specifically?

MM: What you just said is exactly my style. And the more I travel and meet people the more I see that this is the way people are living the experience. When you practice only one activity, you see the mountain just in that way, but if you play with different styles you can see in the same mountain a wall to climb, a couloirs to ski, a highline to connect pics, wingsuit lines to fly, or takes off for paragliding and so on. Here is where creativity starts, you have the possibility to draw different lines in the same canvas, following the seasons and your personal style, isn't it incredible?

I strongly believe this mix of activities saved my life.

When I'm good at something I always push it to the max I can achieve, but at the end this could be deadly. I found this way of mixing activities in order to find a new path, a new research, for myself and for the possibilities that mountains offers. When it happens I like to call it “combo days”. And those are special days.

PG: Activities and sports in the mountains have a great recreational value, and hence the tourism. As a mountain guide, how do you see the discussion about the environmental impact of tourism on the Alps? When you are guiding and teaching, do you have a specific educational agenda?

MM: This question is central to my guide style. Of course it depends on the clients I have, but this is why I run an association that is called Nature4kids which has the goal to teach the young generation how to live the nature in a proper way. Its "motto" is: if you know it you can respect it.

Unfortunately, in general, I don't see a long term view from the governments. There are some good projects starting but they are small and with no money. A large amount of money is still used to building new lifts and to make artificial snow, which is something pretty stupid if you think about global warming. Every year we see the level of the snow getting higher. At the beginning of last season I was interviewed by an Italian newspaper asking what I thought about the closure of the lifts due to Covid. Well, my answer was that I hoped this closure could be the start for an alternative way of thinking the winter tourism. However I didn’t see many changes.

PG: You certainly practice activities with full consequence. How is your approach to risk management? Does it differ when you are basejumping or ski-touring?

MM: I always say “I'm not really good at any sport but I can do them all with enough safety”.

The thing that kills most people practicing outdoor sports is complacency, and changing sport constantly reduces a bit this kind of risk because you always feel scared. I try to go to the mountain without a defined idea of the risk I’m gonna take but always, especially in skitouring, adjusting the main risk constantly. Which is the main risk now? How can I avoid it? These should be the questions every time the inclinations change, every corner we pass, every weather change. I try to be "open" to new risks coming on a tour and not start hiking saying, “OK I have to be careful there and there” so I can feel safe, because I know things can change quickly.

PG: It seems like you have experienced mountains in almost all their facets. What's the discipline you have not tried yet and when will you pick that up? What about the high altitude?

MM: I'm not interested in high altitude, not yet at least! I have a project next summer but more close to 6000. That is a type of alpinism that is too tiring and asks too much. I prefer fast missions, where I can chill in the valley quite quickly afterwards. I haven't tried mountain water sports. I did a bit of canyoning and canoeing but I would like to do some good kayaking to experience the power of a river. Anyway I always say that when I reach 40 I will switch to sea sports. Let's see what life will bring.

PG: Are there any alpine activities you consciously disapprove and why?

MM: Not really. I like all kind of outdoor activities because they allow everyone to experiment himself in this enviroment and grow somehow. I just disapprove the one who takes risks without the know-how. You can do free solo climbing, you can fly close to the ground, you can ski steep couloirs but you have to understand the consequences, and you have to prepare yourself to deal with that. It’s a mental training that you cannot do in a gym, you have to be exposed, you have to be out there, step by step.

Davide Donini
Marco Milanese

PG: Who was inspiring and influential to you? Your dad, or a local mountain guru, or Dean Potter? Did you have a skiing hero as well?

MM: My dad for sure, he taught me since I was a kid, without pushing me to much. I wrote a book called "Volare le montagne" that tells about this new style of alpinism or whatever you want to name it, thought my mentors. Starting from alpinists like Alex Franco or Massimo Candolini, an alpine guide from my own region, to Luca Vuerich, the guru of extreme alpinism. A steep skier, high altitude mountaineer, super fast in everything. A true legend. Than there is Armin Holzer as a skier but mostly for highlining and speedfly.

Now I also have the honour to fly wingsuit with the first person who made wingsuits available for everyone back in 1998, Mr. Robert Pecnik aka Gandalf.

Along side these gurus whom which I have a direct contact with, Dean Potter was for me one of the most inspiring persons. Followed by all the Californian Circus, Cristof Heinz, Mich Kemeter, the flyer franchise and many more. My ski hero is Rumez. He is not well known but he was a strong skier that travelled around the world. In the Julian Alps he skied everything. He was a visionary.

PG: Who is your modern hero and where do you see mountaineering in general and ski-touring in particular move towards? How popular and influential will paragliding become?

MM: At the moment I don't have a hero but franchises in general, as usual, are making crazy things with paralpinism. Ski touring is becoming more and more popular, like climbing. At first I liked it. I believe that there is a positive energy that the mountains give to people so this is a way to become a better person. However the pleasure to do a fresh run alone is getting harder and the magic of this activity is losing his power.

At some point paragliding will be the only reasonable way to go down from a mountain!! I'm joking of course, but paralpinism is and will be the future. This year in Himalayas strong alpinists ascent 7000m peaks taking off at 11.00 very low in the valley, landing quite high in the mountain, do the last parte to the summit climbing, and descending down the same day with the paraglider. Incredible.

PG: Are you a competitive guy? If yes, is there any type of competition you would like to participate in?

MM: Absolutely and maybe unfortunately no.

I left semi-professional rugby because of competition. I don't like the stress of it. I don't like that people have to judge what you did in the field. I just want to enjoy what I want to do a certain day. I participated in two free ride competitions but I just had the confirmation about what I already knew, it is not for me. The only person I want to compete with is myself. I prefer to have challenges not competitions.

PG: Do you have any personal message that you would like to leave us with?

MM: Go to the mountains with passion, not for the chronometer. Not for the likes, but for having the true feeling to be part of the nature, like the dolphins playing in the waves. It is not important which wave you surf. Big, small, strange or the most beautiful one. The most important thing is to be there, always looking for the perfect one, the ride of your life.

I wish to all of you to find your own "wave". Mine is walking through this life suspended on a thread stretched above an abyss while swaying with a firm step and a steady mind, enjoying the beauty of this line called life, trying to die young as late as possible.

PG: Grazie mille e in bocca al lupo, Marco!

MM: Grazie a voi! Speriamo di vederci su qualche bella neve.


Marco thanks his sponsors The North Face, df-sport specialist, Phoenix Fly, Atair & Echo neutra.

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